It is easy to look at the Leave campaign as an ardent Remainer and see nothing but bile. The Turkish ploy was deeply cynical, for instance. But one cannot look at the polls being neck in neck and dismiss almost 50% of the voting public (if we on the Remain side are lucky today, anyhow) as just being a bunch of racists. There are deeply felt feelings that have resulted in Leave either coming close to winning – or indeed, possibly taking us out of the European Union.
Looking at the polls for today’s referendum and seeing them 50-50 shouldn’t really surprise us, if we thought about it all. Again, it is easy to blame “the right wing press” but in reality, the EU is not something that has been defended by the establishment nearly enough, given how important it is. During the course of this campaign, we have seen all living former prime ministers of this country campaign openly (and rather vocally) for Remain. Yet all of them, Cameron included, never did enough to explain how important our membership of said Union is and why this is so. While the Leave side of the argument has been shouting loudly for decades, those who know how important remaining in the EU is, for a variety of reasons, have mostly kept silent about it.
Cameron doesn’t deserve to be picked on in particular on this point (I would actually lay most of the blame for this on Blair, if I was being fair), he is the sitting prime minister and thus his part in all of this is in focus. He has clearly always felt that “settling the European question” is important for the legacy of his premiership, the good of the nation, and keeping his party in one piece. So why did he wait until a few months before the referendum to say anything positive at all about Britain’s membership of the European Union? You can look at the whole renegotiation thing, but that was always a sideshow and Cameron always knew that. Why didn’t he prepare the ground by arguing why he thinks it’s so important we stay in the EU from the moment he became prime minister?
If the establishment thinks staying in the EU is important, it needs to communicate why that is – loudly and often. If Remain wins today (fingers crossed) we cannot take it as a sign that the European question is now settled for all time. We all know the vote will be close and given the way the campaign has unfolded, thinking we can just go back to ignoring a huge number of people’s concerns about our membership of the EU would be extremely foolish. We would just be willing the same thing to happen again – only this time with a much worse result.
As it is, we can only hope now that we don’t wake up tomorrow morning to find out it is too late.